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‘Verminators’ teach beagles to hunt down … bedbugs

FOUNTAIN VALLEY – Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

This pre-bedtime saying has a new, more disturbing connotation after the guys from Isotech Pest Management explained what it means, exactly.

Isotech hunts bedbugs for a living, along with any other insect or rodent that becomes a nuisance, including rats, bees, gophers and roaches.

But their search for bedbugs, the blood-sucking insects often found hiding in mattresses, wall cracks and carpets, is anything but high-tech.

Three tail-wagging beagles, armed with only their keen sense of smell, are the company’s secret weapon.

Isotech Pest Management is the only canine bedbug-inspection company on the West Coast certified by the National Entomology Scent Detection Agency, CEO Mike Masterson said. The beagles, all rescue canines, are trained specifically to search and locate live bedbugs.

The beagles are 95 percent to 98 percent accurate, and they keep their skills up to par at a Fountain Valley training facility. Much like a drug canine is taught to search and seize narcotics, these beagles have a scent for insects.

“All of these dogs are ex-hunting dogs,” technician Erik Alden said. “They train absolutely every day.”

Beagles are known for their sharp olfactory senses and their scent-tracking is heightened by their long floppy ears, which help swish the air in front of their snouts, Masterson said.

“Their mission and what they love to do is find bedbugs,” Masterson said. “It kind of makes a gross situation great.”

Before a real inspection of a possible problematic room Tuesday at an Anaheim hotel, Masterson and technicians Alden and Robert Gregorio demonstrated how the dogs do their jobs in a clean room.

Small vials filled with live bedbugs were placed around the room – hidden under couch cushions, buried in bed sheets and tucked under the mattress.

Bailey, the point dog, entered the room and immediately stuck her nose to the ground. She found the vial under the mattress, vigorously pawed at her target and sat down and looked at her owner.

“Good girl,” Alden says as he scratches her head and rewards her with food. “She will find all the vials, she’s a perfectionist.”

Zip followed Bailey to confirm her finds. He bounded around the room hitting the same targets as his predecessor.

After the beagles confirm an infestation, Isotech moves in to exterminate the problem.

Using chemicals or heat therapy the pest management company treats the entire room including the walls and floor crevices.

Heat therapy, an eco-friendly bug-fighting method, uses propane or infrared to raise the temperature to 150 degrees.

“This will kill all adults, nymphs and their eggs,” Masterson said.

Pest control treatment is the only way to rid a room of bedbugs. Washing the sheets or using household cleaners does not solve the problem because bedbugs can hide in small cracks in the walls and floors and in the carpet.

“You have to treat the whole room like it’s a complete infestation,” Masterson said. “Just washing your sheets will not work.”

The blood-sucking insects are lesser-known pests that can spread easily and multiply quickly. Bedbugs have also been known to carry diseases such as typhus, yellow fever and plague.

“It’s an epidemic that people don’t really realize,” Masterson said. “And bedbugs don’t discriminate. It has nothing to do with being dirty; that’s a common misconception.”

Isotech’s approach to pest control has gained national attention and even helped the company land a reality television series on the Discovery Channel.

“The Verminators” gives an in-depth look at pest control, ranging from vermin infestations to the search for bedbugs. The series recently went international airing in Canada and the Middle East, and Isotech is in filming.

Webisodes of Isotech’s adventures in bug killing can be seen at http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/verminators/verminators.html

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